The industrial and commercial history of Palermo was always comparatively slower than that experienced by Central and especially Northern Italy, despite some important achievements during the 1700s derived from wine-making, silk manufacturing, and the sulphur industry. A more rapid and considerable economic development began during the second half of the 1800s, which remained steady until the beginning of the twentieth century. Many foreign investors started investing their financial assets in economic enterprises in Palermo, from Northern Italy, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany

Palermo started to suffer an inevitable decline at the end of the Second World War, with the launch in 1945 of a plan of urban expansion which culminated in the 1960s and saw the destruction of many of the city’s architectural treasures, replaced by numerous concrete buildings guided by growing speculation and abuse.

In more recent years, more efforts have been made at the Municipal level to recover some of the historical buildings and sites which managed to survive years of political corruption and of construction abuse at the hands of the Mafia. Despite some important achievements that have been reached, with recovered historical buildings now converted into new sources of commercial activity and economic development, unemployment rates in Palermo remain high, especially among young people.

Over the past 16 years, more than 1 million people have left southern Italy: Half of them are between 15 and 34 years old, one fifth holds a University degree, and 16% move abroad (i.e. out of Italy). Almost 800,000 of them have not returned yet. The number of families in southern Italy in which all members are in search of employment has doubled between 2010 and 2018.

Sicily is also the Italian Region which has registered the slowest and smallest economic growth since the crisis which hit the country in 2008. In fact, development rates have fallen below those of the crisis. The economic crisis has caused the failure of many industries, and now too few are left to provide employment to the youth. Investments are also lacking due to the frequent inability showed at the regional level to make sensible use of EU funds.